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Sri Lankan Government Responds to Attack That Kills 290

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  • A series of eight bombings killed 290 people in Sri Lanka and injured hundreds more.
  • Three of the bombs went off in churches on Easter Sunday.
  • The attacks are believed to have been carried out by a local extremist group called National Thowheeth Jamath, and authorities were warned of the attacks ahead of time, but never alerted the Prime Minister.
  • The government is enforcing a curfew throughout the capital and has also blocked several social media sites to prevent the spread of false information.

What Happened?

A series of eight bombings killed 290 people in Sri Lanka and injured at least 500 others on Easter Sunday.

In the country’s capital, Colombo, four attacks were located at hotels and another was at a housing complex. The remaining three bombings were carried out at churches during Easter mass. The churches were located in Colombo, Batticaloa, and Negombo.

Since the bombings happened on Easter, officials believe it was specifically targeting the Christian community in the country. Christianity is a smaller religion in Sri Lanka. Only 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people practice it.

While the attacks occurred in popular tourist areas, most of the victims were citizens of Sri Lanka. Right now, authorities say 39 foreigners were killed.

Police believe that all the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers. No group has claimed the attack. However, police say a local extremist group, National Thoweeth Jamath, is behind the attacks. Twenty-four people have been arrested in relation to Sunday’s events so far. Officers have also recovered 87 detonators at a bus station in Colombo.

According to Sri Lanka’s government news site, INTERPOL is being sent to the country to investigate. The country will be in a state of emergency through midnight local time on Monday.

Warnings of Attack Went Ignored

Government officials say that they were alerted of the attacks two weeks in advance. A spokesperson said they received several warnings that specifically cited potential church bombings by NJT, and even listed suspects names.

The warnings were passed through relevant areas of the police department and to security services, but the information never made its way to the Prime Minister or his cabinet. Authorities took no action against NJT, and it is unclear if they took separate precautions to look into or prevent the attack.

Rajitha Senaratne, a government spokesperson, said that they would be looking into the government’s failure to respond.

“We saw the warnings and we saw the details given.” he added during a press conference. “We are very very sorry, as a government we have to say, we have to apologize to the families and the institutions about this incident.”

Authorities said the warnings they received indicated a much smaller attack. NJT is a newer, smaller group known for having anti-Buddhism beliefs. Buddhism is the most popular religion in Sri Lanka, and the group has been linked to incidents of Buddhist statues being vandalized or destroyed. They do not have a reputation for carrying out attacks of this level.  Because of this, officials believe a larger international network must also be behind the attack.

Government Enacts a Curfew And Social Media Ban

In an effort to prevent further attacks, the government enacted a curfew in Colombo. The curfew lasts from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. and was enforced on Sunday and Monday. It is unclear if they will continue to apply it in the following days.

The government has also shut down several social media sites following the attack. In a statement posted on the government news site, they said, “false news reports were spreading through social media.” They hope that by banning these platforms, they will stop the spread of misinformation.

The statement said that the sites would be back up after investigations close. They cited that Instagram and Facebook would be specifically blocked, but users in the country have also said they are unable to access messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber.

Viber released a statement on Twitter sending condolences to the victims of the attacks and warning local residents to read reports with caution.

Some residents are feeling frustrated by the blocks because they want to communicate with friends and family and confirm that they are safe.

One Colombo resident told The Washington Post that her friends from other countries were unable to reach her.

“I have had friends in London trying to contact me through both (WhatsApp and FaceBook),” she said. “And I can’t see them or message anybody.”

International Leaders Respond

As the news was breaking of the tragedy, several world leaders spoke out. President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States is “ready to help!”

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country recently received global assistance after the iconic Notre Dame cathedral caught fire, reached out to Sri Lanka. He told the country that “all of our solidarity” is with its people.

Pope Frances also gave a statement. “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka],” he said. “Wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)

International

Canada Hires Company to Remove Its Trash After the Philippines Announced Plans to Send It Back at Its Own Expense

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  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his government to ship tons of trash back to Canada that he says was illegally dumped in the Philippines.
  • However, shortly after this announcement, Canada said that it would hire a shipping company to remove the trash by the end of June.
  • The trash was originally sent to the Philippians between 2013 and 2014 by Chronic Plastics, Inc., a private Canadian company.

Trash War

The Philippines announced Wednesday plans to ship tons of trash that it says was illegally dumped in Manila, back to Canada after years of waiting for something to be done.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to take 69 containers of trash back. “The government of the Philippines will shoulder all expenses. And we do not mind,” said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters or 12 nautical miles out to sea from the baseline of any of their country’s shores.”

“The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with the other countries of the world.”

Between 2013 and 2014, the approximately 2,450 tons of trash was sent to the Philippines by Chronic Plastics Inc., a private Canadian company, under the guise of being recyclables. Once it arrived in Manila, inspectors found that the containers were filled with “non-recyclable plastics, household wastes, and adult diapers,” according to the Philippine News Agency.

Canada’s Response

After Duterte’s announcement, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that the government had hired Bolloré Logistics Canada to remove the trash by the end of June.

McKenna also said that all the costs associated with the preparation, transfer, shipment, and disposal of the waste will be covered by the Canadian government.

As of now it is unclear which country’s plan will be implemented.

Past Moves

Over the years Canada and the Philippines have been in multiple talks to find a solution for the trash. Last month, Duterte threatened to go to war over the trash.

We’ll declare war against them,” Duterte said, “I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.”

Check out our past coverage on the trash war.

Earlier this month, Canada missed a May 15th deadline to repatriate the trash and the Philippines removed top diplomats from the country. This trash issue is not the only conflict the two countries have had. Last year the Philippines canceled a multimillion-dollar agreement for 16 helicopters after Canada questioned their intended use.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CBC) (CNN Philippines)

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Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists for Controversial Holocaust Video

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  • Al Jazeera posted a video on their youth-focused channel AJ+ that said Jewish people had intentionally misrepresented how bad the Holocaust was for them, and claimed that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”
  • The video, which was in Arabic, attracted widespread condemnation after a U.S.-based nonprofit called The Middle East Media Research Institute posted a translated version of it.
  • Al Jazeera removed the post and suspended two journalists involved with making the video.

AJ+ Video

Qatar-based multination publication Al Jazeera suspended two journalists who published a video that claimed Jewish people deliberately exaggerated the Holocaust so that Israel could benefit.

The video was posted on May 18 by AJ+ Arabic, Al Jazeera’s youth-focused channel that creates short video explainers designed for social media.  It was reportedly posted on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for AJ+ and received hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down.

The video was posted in Arabic, but it started to get backlash after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a U.S.-based nonprofit, posted an English translation of the video.

Screenshot of MEMRI’s Translation

After the video started receiving criticism, Al Jazeera tweeted that they deleted the video because it “violated the editorial standards of the Network.”

The following day, the publication said in a statement that it “has taken disciplinary action and suspended two of its journalists” over the video.

“Dr. Yaser Bishr, Executive Director of Digital Division, stated that Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question and reiterated that Al Jazeera would not tolerate such material on any of the Network’s platforms,” the statement said. “In an email to staff he also called for the mandatory bias training and awareness program.”

The statement also said that Dima Khatib, the Managing Director of AJ+ Channels, claimed that  “the video was produced without the due oversight,” and added that workflows were being reviewed.

The Video

According to MEMRI’s, the video was posted with the caption, “The Gas Chambers Killed Millions of Jews – That’s How the Story Goes. What Is the Truth behind the Holocaust and How Did the Zionist Movement Benefit from It?”

Based on MEMRI’s translations, the video starts out with the narrator saying, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement.” The narrator then goes on to explain what happened in the Holocaust, describing the persecution of Jews and other groups.

Then the narrator says that the Jews were only part of the many groups murdered by the Nazis and asks, “So why is there a focus only on them?”

“Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis,” she continued.

She then claims that the number of people who died in the Holocaust is still being debated today and asks the question: “How did Israel benefit from the Holocaust?”

The narrator goes on to discuss the 1933 Transfer Agreement, where Zionist groups negotiated with Nazis to allow thousands of German Jews to leave for Palestine, and then makes the argument that Israel greatly benefited from this.

“Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians,” the narrator said.

She concludes the video by asserting that the idea behind the “State of Israel” comes from concepts “that suckled from the Nazi spirit and its main notions.”

Response

Following the incident, numerous people took to Twitter to condemn Al Jazeera.

Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the video “the worst kind of pernicious evil” in a tweet, and argued that it “perpetuates hatred of Israel and the Jews.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic media spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, also expressed disdain in a tweet, writing that the video was “spreading lies about it & about Israel, specifically on #Ramadan in order to incite the masses.”

Others outside of Israel also criticized Al Jazeera. Donald Trump Jr. joined in on Twitter, writing, “Al-Jazeera is now openly publishing Holocaust Denial videos on their facebook page. Will @facebook take action & ban them for this like they’ve done to conservatives for far less?

Al Jazeera English v. Al Jazeera Arabic

Others who criticized Al Jazeera on Twitter highlighted the differences between the publication’s English networks, like Al Jazeera English and AJ+ English, and their Arabic-language networks and content.

One user posted screenshots of the video posted to AJ+ Arabic next to a video about a Holocaust survivor posted on AJ+ English the same day.

“Don’t be fooled by AJ‘s polished facade for its gullible Western audience,” another user wrote on Twitter. “AJ isn’t news, it’s state-controlled propaganda.”

This discussion was also hit on in an article published by BBC. In the article, BCC notes that Al Jazeera English is known for its “varied coverage,” and shining a light on “underreported stories.”

However, that reporting “comes in stark contrast to Al Jazeera Arabic,” the article stated, continuing that Al Jazeera’s Arabic networks often include “friendly coverage of Islamist groups – particularly favouring those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

This compare and contrast is interesting because Al Jazeera is considered a very reliable source among U.S. audiences, but at the end of the day, it is a multinational media network that is funded by the Qatari government.

If Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage is catered so differently to its Middle Eastern audiences, it inevitably raises questions about its legitimacy and reporting in the U.S.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Haaretz) (The Guardian)

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Taiwan Becomes First in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

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  • Taiwan’s Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, making it the first in Asia to do so.
  • The decision comes after a 2017 ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court which found that disallowing same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing it.
  • Supporters of the bill are optimistic it will set an example for other Asian nations, while opponents say it does not support the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted against legalization in a referendum last November.

Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after the country’s Parliament approved a bill Friday.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, in anticipation of Friday’s vote. Gathered outside the Parliament building, supporters cheered when the decision was announced.

The Parliament’s announcement came after lawmakers considered three separate bills and ultimately decided on the most progressive of the three, which was passed with a vote of 66-27. The legislation chosen was the only one that defined a same-sex relationship as “marriage,” while the other bills used terms like “same-sex union.”

The bill will take effect after Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, signs it into law. Ing-wen campaigned on marriage equality in 2016, and praised the passage of the bill on Twitter, writing, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

Once the law goes into effect, it will give same-sex couples many of the same tax, insurance, and child custody benefits that are allowed to heterosexual married couples. It will also allow limited adoption rights, though it is unclear if those rights will extend to the adoption of non-blood relatives.

Taiwan’s Progressive History

Taiwan has been applauded as a champion and leader of gay rights in the region, well before the passage of the new bill.

Its annual gay pride parade in Taipei is known for attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the continent, making it the largest pride parade in East Asia.

In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the laws that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying violated the Taiwanese constitution. The court then gave the government two years to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.

However, same-sex marriage remained a divisive subject in Taiwan. Following the 2017 ruling, conservative and religious opponents stalled the passage of a new law legalizing gay marriage. Opponents also pressured the government into holding a referendum on whether or not the public wanted gay marriage to be legal.

The referendum, which was held in Novemeber, showed that Taiwanese voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage, and favored the definition of marriage as the union of a man and woman.  

Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), responded to the referendum by drafting two competing bills that would align with both the Constitutional Court’s decision and the results of the referendum. Unsurprisingly, those bills were strongly opposed by the LBGTQ+ community.

Taiwan’s Parliament ultimately did not choose those two bills, instead opting for the bill supported by the LGBTQ+ community, as represented by the vote on Friday. While marriage equality advocates have criticized the limits on adoption rights for same-sex couples, they still favored the bill that was passed over the other versions.

While supporters celebrated the bill’s passage, opponents of legalizing gay marriage expressed their anger. “How can we ignore the result of the referendums, which demonstrated the will of the people?” said John Wu, a lawmaker who is part of the opposition Kuomintang party. “Can we find an appropriate compromise solution? We need more dialogue in society.”

Potential Implications for the Region

Taiwan’s decision to legalize gay marriage makes it the first to do so in a region where gay rights have fallen wayside.

With the new law, many hope that Taiwan will set an example for other countries in the region. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, applauded Taiwan for leading the way for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia “amid growing authoritarianism and rights abuses in other countries throughout the region.”

However, it remains unclear if other Asian nations will follow suit. While countries like China and Vietnam have decriminalized homosexuality, gay marriage still remains illegal.

Other Asian nations still are slow to embrace change concerning LGBTQ+ rights.

Until last year, gay sex was considered a criminal offense in India which was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Just last month, Brunei implemented new laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Brunei later walked back on the law after massive international protest. It now claims it will not enforce the death penalty, though gay sex will still be punished by jail time in the country.

That said, others are optimistic about strides some Asian nations are taking. Thailand has proposed a law that would recognize same-sex partnerships, and last year a Hong Kong court ruled that same-sex couples that live in the city would be allowed the same rights to visas as heterosexual couples who are married.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Hong Kong, but public opinion polls show that support for marriage equality is gaining traction.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (The Washington Post)

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